Steroids And Athletes What kind of role model is Mark McGwire? Many people are familiar with his seventy homeruns in one season, but do they know that he has been using androstenedione, a type of steroid that boosts testosterone levels? While it is perfectly legal in the United States and in the major leagues, it sends the wrong health message to athletes of every age. If young adults take androstenedione, or any other steroid, they may regret it for the rest of their lives. Artificially high levels of testosterone have been shown to permanently damage the heart, trigger liver failure, and stunt a teenagers growth (Gorman 21-22). All are too great of a price for any sport. What it all comes down to is that we need to educate both ourselves and all intercollegiate athletes about the risks involved with steroid use. Anabolic-androgenic steroids are chemical derivatives of the male sex hormones. Anabolic refers to the constructive or building-up process of the bodys metabolism.
Androgen refers to male-life or masculinizing characteristics. There are also two other types of steroids: estrogenic or corticosteroids. Estrogenic steroids produce female or feminizing characteristics, and corticosteroids originate in the cortex of the adrenal glands and have a shrinking effect. The latter is used to treat tissue stress, reduce inflammation, and to ease pain (Ringhofer 174). Users take steroids in cycles lasting six to twelve weeks or more. Stacking, or the use of more than one type of steroid, helps to maximize strength gains, minimize side effects, and avoid detection. To build size, strength, and speed, athletes often use 10 to 100 times the medical dosage (Yesalis xxv).
Anabolic-androgens can be taken either by mouth, by injection, or, more recently, by skin creams or patches (Cowart 25). The two main reasons that athletes use steroids are to improve athletic performance and to improve their appearance. In 1985, Anderson and McKeag did the first study of college athletes correlated with steroid use. They interviewed 2039 male and female athletes and discovered much new information. Nine percent of football players used anabolic-androgen steroids. Other male sports included track and field (4%), baseball (4%), tennis (4%), and basketball (3%).
The only womens sport associated with steroid use was swimming, in which 1% were users. Five percent of Division I athletes were users in 1985, as well as 4% of D-II and 2% of D-III athletes. The same study was repeated in 1991, in which 2282 athletes were questioned. Overall, steroid use slightly increased, especially since three womens sports became associated with steroid use. Swimming remained at 1%, but one percent of basketball players and track and field athletes also admitted to using the drugs.
For mens sports, the figures are the following: football (10%), track and field (4%), baseball (2%), basketball (2%), and tennis (2%). Five percent of both Division I and II athletes admitted to using steroids, as well as 4% of D-III athletes (Yesalis 60). Since then, steroid use has decreased in Division I sports, but increased among females. Steroid use by adolescent girls in the US is low but significant (Cowart 61). The use of anabolic-androgenic steroids can lead to some cosmetic side effects. First, they have an effect of body hair.
Body hair patterns are steroid hormone dependent. Normal anabolic-androgenic steroid use can lead to an increase in facial hair growth and a gradual recession of the hairline. Balding is accelerated with long-term administration to normal individuals with the balding gene. Androgens increase sebaceous gland size and secretion rates, which can result in acne. Relatively weak androgens can increase sebum production and skin lipid cholesterol content also.
Lipid cholesterol content appears at peak levels in the sebum excretion after three or four weeks of androgen administration (Yesalis 115-116). Gynecomastia, the development of abnormal breast tissue in males, “occurs in men when estrogen levels increase or androgen levels decrease relative to the amount of estrogen present” (Yesalis 116). Many other side effects occur that are not visible. Increase in appetite, energy, or aggressiveness, and a more rapid recovery from strenuous workouts may be some of the first to appear. Anabolic-androgenic steroids can affect the liver and cardiovascular and reproductive systems. Liver function can be damaged, resulting in jaundice, blood-filled cysts, and benign and malignant tumors.
An increase in blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure can lead to early development of heart disease, which can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. For males, production of naturally occurring hormones may be increased, which can result in shrinking testes, low sperm count, and infertility. In females, male-like characteristics may appear, such as broader backs, wider shoulders, thicker waists, flatter chests, more body and facial hair, and deeper voices. The clitoris may enlarge, and menstrual cycles may become irregular or stop completely (Ringhofer 175). The central nervous system can also be affected by anabolic-androgenic steroids.
An increase in mental awareness, elevation in mood, improvement in memory and concentration, and a reduction of sensations of fatigue can all be partly related to the stimulatory effects on the central nervous system (Yesalis 163). When individuals discontinue use of steroids, their size and strength diminish, often dramatically. These effects motivate renewed use (Yesalis 171). Physical dependence on steroids, or any other drug, is characterized by symptoms of withdrawal (Yesalis 197). Dependent users are usually heavy users that more than likely began taking steroids before the age of sixteen.
They complete more and longer cycles of use, combine multiple anabolic steroid drugs simultaneously, and use injectable anabolic steroids. In addition, they are more likely to perceive peers as steroid users. Dependence can occur within nine to twelve months after initial use. Severe dependence is marked by an excess of dependency symptoms and social dysfunction. Withdrawal from anabolic-androgenic steroids can be broken down into two phases.
The first phase may begin and end in the first week. It is characterized by increased pulse rate and blood pressure, chills, goose bumps, nausea, headaches, and dizziness. The individual is often anxious and irritable. In the second phase, which may begin in the first week and last for months, the person shows depressive symptoms and has cravings (Yesalis 205-6). The most critical task of prevention programs is to target the risk factors of anabolic steroid dependence or abuse, which I hope that I have made clear.
Prevention programs must address the broader cultural context, especially in the U.S., that places high values on physical attractiveness and on winning competitions. Successful programs address these influences by providing alternatives for managing them. Treatment is needed when the severity of dependence hinders the user from stopping safely on his or her own. The major goal of treatment is not only, abstinence from anabolic steroids, but also restoration of health (Yesalis 208). As coaches of possible anabolic-androgenic steroid users, I suggest three ways to educate your players.
First, give a clear message that any non-medical use of steroids and other performance- or appearance-altering drugs is illegal and harmful to physical and emotional health (Ringhofer 138). Promote the importance of participation, fun, and fair play in sports instead of “win-at-all-costs” values. Lastly, point out that the physiques of body builders, and other role models like McGwire, do not represent healthy or necessarily attractive ideals for young people to follow. Coaches need to accept the responsibility of making their players aware of the dangers of steroid use. If they do not, then who will? Bibliography Cowart, Virgina.
The Steroids Game. Chicago: Human Kinetics Publishers, 1998. Gorman, Christine. “Muscle Madness.” Time. 7 September 1998: 21-22.
Ringhofer, Kevin R. Coaches Guide to Drugs and Sports. Champaign: Human Kinetics Publishers, 1996. Yesalis, Charles E. Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise. Champaign: Human Kinetics Publishers, 1996.